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Wow, here we are! A new Armored Saint album!! It’s been 5 years since the Sandoval brothers got together with John Bush and Joey Vera from Anthrax and Jeff Duncan (of Odin fame) to record another album. Bush’s vocals bring back memories of my youth while the rest of the band come together with a nostalgic sound and crisp riffs that anyone would be happy to listen to.

My absolute favorite memory of Armored Saint would have to be their 1991 release of ‘Symbol of Salvation’, aka ‘SoS’, being one of my early metalhead anthems that stands strongly with the best of Megadeth, Metallica, Testament and Manowar. I remember the first time I heard ‘SoS’ - my mind was totally blown. I quickly went through the rest of their discography and, while I enjoyed their earlier work (‘Raising Fear’ being one of their better works), I still came back to ‘SoS’ as my favorite. It would be 9 years after the ‘SoS’ release until Armored Saint would record another album. In 2000 came ‘Revelation’, which was considered a reunion album as the band was disbanded for more than 6 years. I enjoyed ‘Revelation’, but sorted it somewhere in the middle of Armored Saint’s albums. ‘La Raza’ (their sixth studio album) came after another long break, being released in 2010. ‘La Raza’ was recorded by the same line-up that worked on ‘Symbol of Salvation’. However, even with hearing that news, I was sort of left feeling let down outside of the track ‘Chilled’. Most of the album was pretty much ‘generirock’ that didn’t leave any last impression with me.

Which brings us to 2015 and the studio release of ‘Win Hands Down’. This would be Armored Saint’s seventh studio album released in over 30 years and returns John Bush on vocals, Joey Vera on bass/backup vocals, Gonzo Sandoval on drums, Phil Sadoval on guitar and Jeff Duncan on backing vocals/guitar. The album comes right out of the gate with extremely strong riffs and excellent chorus vocals that really bring me back to ‘Symbol of Salvation’! I really like the flow of this album from song to song and really have enjoyed my experience so far with ‘Win Hands Down’. But, before I give my overall feelings of the album, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the tracks.

The first song gives us our title track of the album. It’s pretty good with a wild intro that any metal loving goon would enjoy and has all the Armored Saint charm that I know and love. A great way to start this album and a nice kick in the ass that was very absent from ‘La Raza’ five years ago. The next track is ‘Mess’, which instantly pulls off a bit more complicated guitars which is extremely welcome! I got a breath of my childhood entering into my heart that I hadn’t heard since ‘Symbol of Salvation’ and older Anthrax! This leads into ‘An Exercise of Debauchery’ which, weighing in at just a second over 6 minutes would anchor a nice bridge that I would consider three very solid rock/metal tracks that continue with ‘Muscle Memory’ and ‘That Was Then, Way Back When’. ‘Muscle Memory’ will remind you of their early 90s’ work during the chorus. I wouldn’t say the midsection of this album will rock anyone’s socks off, but there is nothing wrong with it at all!

This brings us to what I would consider the best track on this album, ‘With a Full Head of Steam’. Pearl Aday, daughter of legendary Meat Loaf, offers backup / shared vocals which really brings out a new dimension of sound to Armored Saint and brings a near epic amalgam of sounds to the chorus line. I find myself going back to this song as a regular rotation in my best music to listen to! After that, ‘In an Instant’ starts off with a welcoming sound of acoustic guitar that quickly jars you with heavy riffs building up to a fantastic duelling guitar solo/chorus that is, honestly, the perfect track to follow the Aday/Bush duet that came just one track before. ‘Dive’ starts off with a keyboard intro that would be another first in the Armored Saint library of songs, which is another welcome transformation of their sound that mixes so well with everything else. The final track on this album is a reminder of Armored Saint’s attitude that knocks you on your butt – ‘Up Yours’ is a perfect way to complete an overall excellent album experience that really has to be heard to be understood.

Overall, I am pleased to say that ‘Win Hands Down’ is a return to Armored Saint’s true form with a sound that resembles the best of what they were the masters of in the late 80s to early 90s. Add to that just enough changed and updated to give this release a sound all of its own that won’t just be considered – “Just like their old stuff”. After several dozen listens, I would put this as just a grade below their legendary release of ‘Symbol of Salvation’. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to pick this up and listen proudly alongside the best of their discography!
Metal Blade
Review by Joshua Jaeger
2nd June 2015
1) Win Hands Down
2) Mess
3) An Exercise in Debauchery
4) Muscle Memory
5) That Was Then, Way Back When
6) With a Full Head of Steam
7) In an Instant
8) Dive
9) Up Yours
"...an overall excellent album experience that really has to be heard to be understood."